Boxing: Calzaghe's brilliance books place as one of the greats

Joe Calzaghe's final seconds as the most underrated champion in recent British boxing history were possibly the sweetest of his career.

On Saturday night Calzaghe finally established himself as, arguably, the best boxer of his generation and one of the very best in British boxing history when he produced a flawless display to win every second of every round against the previously unbeaten American Jeff Lacy.

"If Joe had beat somebody like that on the street, he would have been charged with GBH," his father and trainer Enzo said, while Frank Warren, Calzaghe's promoter, added: "That was the best performance I've seen from any fighter in all my years in the sport."

Dan Birmingham, Lacy's trainer, agreed. "I've never ever seen a better performance anywhere in the world," he said.

Even Calzaghe's most biased fans failed to predict such an astonishingly easy victory against the boxer who arrived in Britain 10 days ago carrying a heavy weight of expectation as the firm favourite with the bookies.

The fight was relentless for young Lacy; there was never a moment when he looked likely to put an end to the slaughter, because that is exactly what it was, and there was never one second when he managed to get his head clear of Calzaghe's fists.

To say that Lacy was simply overwhelmed is to suggest that Calzaghe arrived in the ring better prepared. That only tells half the story, because on Saturday night Calzaghe's plan was quite brilliant. Lacy, his cornermen and his large entourage did not know how to respond.

Calzaghe decided long ago, during his training sessions near his South Wales home, that he would get close to Lacy, pushing the American back, and at the same time always remain slightly outside the predictable and potentially punishing arc of Lacy's punches.

It is one thing to come up with a plan and it is often something entirely different to put it into practice, but on Saturday night, as the seconds passed, the minutes fell, and the rounds blurred into each other, it was clear that Calzaghe, at 33 and in the 41st fight of his professional career, was putting on a master class.

In the past there have been many great wins by British boxers in world title fights where they have started as the underdog, but there has always been a side issue, a reason, for the victory. Going into Saturday's fight, there was no suggestion that Lacy, 28, was carrying any problems.

It was clear from the opening bell, and the Americans admitted as much after the fight, that they had underestimated Calzaghe and woefully overestimated their very own man. In boxing that is not a valid excuse.

Calzaghe had not taken one second for granted and had prepared for 12 gruelling rounds, had prepared to find himself under pressure, possibly on the canvas. On the night all he had to do was stick to his plan, and it was obvious that nothing could go wrong. It is rare in any championship fight for one boxer to win every round in such an aggressive style. On Saturday Calzaghe was over his front foot and extremely aggressive throughout.

By the end of round one Lacy's nose was bleeding, and in rounds four and six the young American's face started to swell and blood seeped from cuts above and below both of his eyes. By round 10 it was possible that the referee, working with Lacy's cornermen, could have intervened to stop the slaughter, but that never happened.

The final three minutes were both a celebration of British boxing and grim viewing for people who like their sport with slightly less gore. Lacy was forced to hold on throughout, but was eventually dropped from a small combination, and as he regained his feet he was a truly pitiful sight, with both cheeks close to joining his eyebrows and obscuring his vision totally. Yet Calzaghe was given another 90-odd seconds to savage Lacy once again.

All three judges gave Calzaghe the decision by all 12 rounds, although they were obliged to deduct a point when the referee penalised him in round 11 for hitting and holding.

It was the sweetest possible win for Calzaghe, who was making his 18th defence of the World Boxing Organisation title, because there have been moments during his nine-year reign when it looked likely that he would retain his belt but remain anonymous. That changed for ever in 36 minutes in the ring.

Calzaghe will let his swollen hands heal before making a decision on his future. But he has secured a place at the top of British boxing's list of greats. Lacy will need a long, long rest, and there is every chance he will never be the same brash young man again.

Ring of fire Steve Bunce's greatest British victories

* Joe Calzaghe v Jeff Lacy. WBO and IBF super-middleweight, MEN Arena, Manchester, Saturday. Calzaghe won, pts.

Lacy was unbeaten in 22 fights and the favourite.

* Randy Turpin v Sugar Ray Robinson. World middleweight, Earls Court Arena, 14 Feb 1951. Turpin won, pts 15.

Robinson won the title back 64 days later.

* Lloyd Honegan v Donald Curry. World welterweight, Atlantic City, 27 September 1986. Honeyghan won, rsf 6th.

Curry moved up to light-middleweight afterwards.

* Nigel Benn v Gerald Mcclellan. WBC super-middleweight, London Arena, 25 Feb 1995. Benn won, rsf 10th.

McClellan debut at weight.

* John H Stracey v Jose Napoles. WBC welterweight, Mexico City, 6 Dec 1975. Rsf 6th.

Napoles retired afterwards.

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